Ocean literacy program at HJHS. (A) Collecting floating eelgrass. (B) Washing decayed eelgrass to extract eelgrass seeds for sowing. (C) Scraping oysters to drop excrescences, such as barnacles (Balanomorpha) and sea squirts (Ascidiacea). (D) Kikigaki (listening and noting dictation), with oyster culture being explained by a fisherman. *The use of the photos has been authorized by Yoko Oda, the principal of Hinase Junior High School on June 10th, 2019.

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Coastal zones, comprising the dynamic area between land and sea, have become so vulnerable in recent years that maintaining them is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Around 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of coastal zones, and this population has increased over time.

Damage to coastal zones is also increasing, in part because of the physical and psychological disconnect between people and nature. When people do not feel a strong connection with their surroundings, they are less likely to maintain them. Western society is beginning to pay more attention to this disconnect and how it directly contributes to coastal zone damage—unsustainable use that leads to ecological degradation.

How do people reconnect to nature? Satoumi, a Japanese concept, may be the answer. In Japanese, Sato means “the area where people live” and umi means “the sea.” Satoumi are coastal zones where human interaction has improved the land from its more natural trajectory through sustainable use and conservation. What is unique to satoumi is its strong connection of people with coastal zones. People enjoy benefits not only like goods and services (e.g., fish and disaster prevention) and rich biodiversity but also the connection itself. This sense of being connected to a specific space is called relational value. When people experience relational value, they feel a strong motivation to maintain the place they share a connection with.

How can we create satoumi? It is by no means easy to transform coastal zones into satoumi. As we examined this question, we found that a certain type of marine education could be a leverage. At a junior high school in the Hinase district of Bizen City, Japan, in principle, all children in the district – the future leaders of the community – attend the school and take the marine education programs. We found that the programs cultivate relational values in students. Therefore, marine education, in the long run, could transform coastal zones into satoumi by improving physical and psychological connection with nature of the future leaders of the community. It may be a lesson for Western society.